THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER 2017 EDITION OF EASYJET TRAVELLER MAGAZINE
Zero miles on the clock,” beamed Mr Car Hire, handing me the keys to his bright red Opel Corsa. “Brand new!”
Mr Car Hire owned a tiny car-hire outfit on the edge of Antalya Airport and he admired his newly purchased Corsa as a proud father would his favourite son.
He gazed at flawless paintwork that sparkled in the Anatolian sunshine. He inhaled its delicious new-car smell. He seemed to shed a tear as he waved it off on its maiden voyage.
Little did he know his beloved vehicle would soon be transformed into something resembling a losing finalist on Robot Wars. Not because of my driving or anyone else’s. But because of that fiend, the sat nav.
I don’t get on with sat navs. Once, for example, having entered my home address in east London, I drove for many miles before realising I was being directed towards the Channel Tunnel – and then onward to France, Spain, Morocco, through Saharan sands, rainforest and ISIS-controlled territory to East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa: 192 hours, 8,799 miles away.
In my experience, sat navs always seem to fall from the windscreen at critical moments, bashing a few random buttons on the way down and then giving muffled directions to Swindon from the footwell (in Finnish). And the ‘Zoom Out’ button keeps getting overexcited, meaning you’re soon regarding your location from the outer reaches of the solar system, watching a continent-sized car crawling across planet Earth to the sound of, “TAKE THE FIRST EXIT AT THE ROUNDABOUT”.
But no failures compare to my recent trip along the south coast of Turkey. It started out well enough. After inputting the address of a hotel near Fethiye, the route took my wife and I through spectacular scenery. There were little villages with whitewashed mosques and limestone mountains rising sheer from the Aegean Sea. Obediently following the sat nav’s command, we took a turn off the main highway onto a dusty gravel road. Traffic all but disappeared.
A tortoise was crossing the road and wild goats were having a siesta on the verge. The occasional farmer gave us foreboding looks as we followed hairpin bends up into the higher reaches of the mountains and our ears went pop.
Things went from bad to worse. Storm clouds began to blow in and the road swerved manically – inspired less by orthodox traffic systems, more by Nemesis at Alton Towers. Torrential rain began to fall and vertical drops loomed inches from skidding wheels. To call it the worst road I’ve ever seen would be a compliment, because this wasn’t a road at all. More of a get-together of stones and pebbles, plus a few boulders along for the party.
And then a moment of terror: flash floods had swept away a chunk of the route. We were stuck – there was no way to turn back, no phone signal, no villages for miles around.
I had a premonition of the future, trying to survive in the mountains and forests, clubbing rabbits with the Corsa gearstick, returning to humankind years later with an Old-Testament beard and a hat made from a hubcap.
With no other option, we pushed on doggedly – getting out of the car to heave boulders out of the way and revving furiously through the mud. Each sledgehammer blow to the chassis signalled the final death of our deposit and the eternal heartbreak of Mr Car Hire. Meanwhile, the sat nav continued to show a tarmacked road meandering merrily beneath blue skies. After four hours, we burst through a hedgerow back into civilisation, at which the sat nav piped up again with a celebratory jingle and a “YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT YOUR DESTINATION”.
“You didn’t take the highway?” said the hotel manager, scrutinising the mangled corpse of the Corsa, which by this point looked like a prop from Mad Max. He pointed to the major road that whooshed right up to the hotel, which had tarmac, a hard shoulder and roadside ice-cream stands. “Nobody has taken the mountain road in years.”
I read, recently, that Stephen Hawking predicts artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. The Terminators are already among us – and they want us to take the first exit at the roundabout.
Oliver Smith is a writer for Lonely Planet Traveller magazine.